suitcase

In my last post, I described reasons, some viable, some ridiculous, why packing and traveling light is the way to go. So now that you understand the benefits of carrying the minimum, this article will explain how to do it. But first,

What is packing and traveling light?

Packing and traveling light is packing the bare essentials, essentially. Many people assume that the more time we will travel, the more things we will need to bring. This is a bit of a myth, but a 7-day trip almost always requires at least a little bit more than an overnight jaunt. Pack what you know you will need and use. Just because you want to bring something, it does not mean that it’s necessary. Traveling light should mean that your luggage weighs little to nothing.

Read the post on Why to Pack and Travel Light.

How to pack and travel light

To travel light, we need to be able to travel smart. This means that we need to use our heads and prioritize items effectively.

  • Make a list. Lists are a great first step because it helps us to prioritize items based on their value, rather than allowing sentiment to possibly get in the way once you see the item. Jot down everything you want to take, from the most necessary (passport, wallet) to the most useless (iHome, 3rd pair of shoes). Prioritize each item on the list by adding numbers next to them, starting with ‘1’ for the absolute, most important thing, and going down numerically from there. Not only are packing lists good for weeding out the items that you don’t need to bring along, but they help ensure that we don’t leave anything behind. Read more about Creating Checklists Before Traveling.
  • Pick a bag, but just one! After the passport, our piece of luggage is just about the most important travel necessity. There are many kinds of luggage, from hard-sided suitcases to collapsible duffel bags. Choose a bag that is able to be a carry-on, rather than one that requires you to check it. To be on the safe side, choose a luggage that does not exceed 22″ x 14″ x 9″, though some airlines may be more generous than others. Pick a piece of luggage that makes sense; If you are the frequent business traveler or like to tour cities, get a solid carry-on, the kind with a extendable grip and with wheels, since paved surfaces will be the norm. If you are more of an adventure enthusiast or camper, a great hiking pack is the best option, giving you the ability to carry it wherever you go.
  • Choose only necessary clothing. This point cannot be stressed enough. Clothing takes up around 80% to 90% of the space in our pack, and we usually carry more than we need. Be smart with the clothing you choose, and you will be able to manage your days traveling with style! Dark clothes dry quickly and make wrinkles harder to notice. Make sure every outer-layer of clothing which you want to bring can serve more than one purpose. Bring a jacket that will keep you warm and is suitable to be worn to a semi-formal dinner; pack slacks/jeans/skirts that could be worn hiking as well as to that semi-formal dinner environment. Think of it like this – two different shirts and two pairs of pants, along with your coat, gives you up to 8 different dress options: Shirt A/Pants A, Shirt A/Pants B, Shirt B/Pants A, Shirt B/Pants B, and then each option with and without a jacket; be creative! A combination of a t-shirt and comfortable pants are useful for lounging as well as sleeping in, and shouldn’t take up too much room.
  • Choose one versatile pair of shoes. The most ideal strategy is to bring only one pair of shoes, the ones you wear on the plane, which means not having to reserve any space in your baggage for a pair. To work with one pair, be just as creative as you should be with your clothing options. The shoes should be both versatile in most types of walking/hiking/backpacking terrains, as well as able to pass muster in any social or dining event you will encounter. Black is best.
  • Carry detergent. Since we are trying to forego schlepping our entire wardrobe, we need to be more resourceful with the few items we have. Carrying a small pouch of dry laundry detergent (powder) is quite a rewarding option. You can use the sink, tub, or shower of your accommodations to wash your underwear, socks, and t-shirts, which are usually thin and dry quickly. If you have more time, you can even wash pants and shirts, hanging them to dry overnight. Tip for faster drying: Twist each garment as tight as possible into a kind of rope, wringing out all water. While still taut, fold in half and wring both sides to remove even more water; if you can repeat with a second fold, do it! Remember to immediately unravel the garment and shake it out to minimize wrinkles. 
  • Minimize the toiletry kit. Most hotels offer a bar of soap, shampoo, and conditioner, and though they might not be the best, they can save room and money. If you will stay at a hostel or out on the land somewhere, bring only the essentials – no loofahs, hairdryers, body oils, or bath salts. Purchase a combination shampoo and conditioner, rather than carrying one of each. Remember that toothpaste and deodorant last much longer than you think, so bring the smallest size available. Even better – if you need toiletries while traveling, pick up some at your destination.
  • Bring as few electronics as possible. In this day and age where technology dominates almost every aspect of our lives, it seems almost impossible for many of us to part with the things that we’ve gotten used to. However, everything these days also seems to function as more than one device, which gives us some options. Sure, we want to take our iPad, because it is perfect for the flight, our laptop, to get work accomplished in our spare time, our iPod, to listen to tunes, our cell phone, alarm clocks, and our camera. But this is too much and quite unnecessary, and invites thievery. Bring that cell phone that you probably would take anyway, and let that be your music player, alarm clock, and e-reading device. Maybe you could go so far as to let it be the camera that you carry. A decent smartphone nowadays can replace a laptop, while still offering most of the functions and capabilities of its larger cousin. Whatever the case, embrace technology by allowing each device to function in more than one way, rather than bringing every piece of it that you own. Don’t forget that travel adapter!
  • Pack light by packing tight. The key to fitting everything you need in your little piece of luggage is to pack economically. Used every nook and cranny available. Bundle-wrap your clothes, rather than folding, to save space (though it’d be more difficult to get something in your pack without opening it all the way). Carry some of your important items, such as your passport, wallet, and phone, in your pockets on your person. 

Antoine de Saint-Exupery said it best:

“He who would travel happily must travel light.”

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